When our current Headmaster and his family joined York House in 2012 the school had been situated at the old Manor of Redheath with 47 acres of land since 1966. However, there was clearly scope for the school to make better use of that space, as 35 acres of estate parkland were being rented annually by a local farmer which provided a small income but very little amenity. Both Mr & Mrs Gray had been working at different schools in central London (one in Wandsworth, one in Knightsbridge) neither of which had a blade of grass on their site which perhaps made the situation regarding the York House site even more pertinent an opportunity.
In 2013 the school arranged for the CBBC program “Pet School” to be filmed on-site during the summer holidays. By kind agreement of the BBC some of the enclosures and animal houses were left on-site when the filming finished. That began the York House Smallholding which has grown since to include ponies, sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, donkeys, pygmy goats and a fish pond. Spread across four separate enclosures, the younger pupils in the school can enjoy seeing and interacting with the animals whilst a team of senior pupils look after much of the animal welfare during term-time weekdays including feeding & watering, mucking out, changing bedding and being present for vet and farrier visits. For some of our senior pupils that aspect of the school is real love and highlight of their experience at York House.
Also on the school site in the last seven years, there has been added a mountain biking course, an assault course, an outdoor classroom, two fire pit sites, areas for camping out (which all pupils from Year 4 upwards have the opportunity to do at least once a year), cross country plus triathlon and cyclo-cross.
We have planted around 2000 trees in the last two years and have been awarded the Woodland Trust gold award as a school that plants and maintains trees but also uses innovative methods to educate and communicate the importance of the woodland environment. Planting trees fit into our pupil aims with the desire to “Leave People and Places better than we find them.”
It is also a good illustration of one part of the York House Way where we encourage pupils to “Think Globally & Act Locally” which was the theme of a recent “TEDx” event held at the school.
York House is fortunate to enjoy an excellent relationship with the Woodland Trust and we can make use of significant areas of ancient woodland bordering the site for outdoor education, drama, expeditions and curriculum teaching plus geo-caching. Pupils have had the opportunity to see the benefit of coppicing and pollarding as methods of woodland husbandry.
We have invested in the importance of high-quality staff to make use of the outdoors environment and this happens with our outdoor education leader within the curriculum for Nursery, Year 1, Year 3 and Year 5. The excellent site team play an important part in the installation and maintenance of our outdoor spaces. Outdoor learning is an important aspect of the co-curricular provision in the school with mountain biking, kayaking and many other clubs and activities. We are also fortunate to have a dedicated member of staff to lead the smallholding aspect of the school to ensure the highest standards of animal welfare.
There are development plans both large and small to continue the upward trajectory of our outdoor provision in the coming years. Both the assault course and the mountain biking track have planned improvements and a further animal enclosure designed to maintain the character of the old estate avenue of lime trees is also under discussion.
That develop would further facilitate the various groups of animals being able to rotate around different enclosures to make sure that they enjoy a stimulating and interesting environment and lifestyle.
The most ambitious project, on the “it would be nice to have …” list, is the installation and associated landscaping of a sizeable lake, including a central island for wildfowl, which could be used for fishing, wild swimming and outdoor kayaking.